Cancer Genomics Research Forges Ahead

The fight against cancer wages on, as researchers steadily increase their understanding of this wildly diverse and complex group of diseases. In the field of cancer genomics, scientists continue to define molecular defects in the genome to turn discoveries into treatment and prevention campaigns.

As part of this effort, next generation sequencing (NGS) is developing as a key process for acquiring a deeper and more accurate view into the molecular foundations of tumors. And NGS-informed diagnostics, aided by advanced computational data analysis, are now helping drive the selection of patient treatments with targeted therapeutics, enabling the development of personalized medicine.

As a sign of this progress, The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), an initiative of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, in 2018 published 25 papers in its Pan-Cancer Atlas, the first public research that utilizes a 2.5-petabyte, publicly available database. A comprehensive, multi-dimensional map of aberrations to the genome and epigenome of 33 different types of cancer, the Atlas is available for further mining and promises to continue to revolutionize the deep analysis of various cancer types.

Overall, said Jean Claude Zenklusen, director of the TCGA, cancer genomics is moving toward “bringing results to patients.”

Meanwhile, the reach of NGS diagnostic testing is poised to dramatically expand in 2019 as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said it will cover NGS testing for patients with advanced cancer in its health insurance plans. “We want cancer patients to have enhanced access and expanded coverage when it comes to innovative diagnostics that can help them in new and better ways,” Seema Verma, CMS administrator, said in a 2018 news release. “That is why we are establishing clear pathways to coverage, while at the same time supporting laboratories that currently furnish tests to the people we serve.”

A prominent example of the transformation of oncology research into treatment is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval this month of the first immunotherapy regimen to target metastatic breast cancer. The FDA is allowing an accelerated go-ahead to a combination of Tecentriq from Genentech and an Abraxis Bioscience, LLC, a chemotherapy company. “This Tecentriq combination is the first cancer immunotherapy regimen to be approved in breast cancer, representing a meaningful step forward in the understanding of this disease,” said Sandra Horning, M.D., Genentech’s chief medical officer and head of Global Product Development.

Emily Leproust, CEO of Twist Bioscience, believes the increased understanding of molecular oncology will accelerate development of treatments: “It is a very exciting time in cancer research, as improved tools and approaches are leading to more effective, focused treatments and longer survival for some.” Leproust continues, “Employing continued genomic advances, we believe personalized treatment of cancer will continue to evolve, moving toward the possibility of each person receiving a therapy specifically designed to treat their individual cancer effectively.”

Researchers continue to use Twist Bioscience’s synthetic DNA tools as they seek greater knowledge of genomic cancer research and therapeutics. Some recent examples, as outlined in Twist’s blog:

- Novel Immunotherapy Targets Revealed by Genome-Wide CRISPR Screen

- Twist Bioscience Gene Fragments Help Researchers Identify New Targets for Leukemia Treatment

- CRISPR Screens with Synthetic DNA From Twist Bioscience Unlock Secrets of Treatment-Resistant Cancers

These trends will be addressed at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting March 29-April 3 in Atlanta, GA. Twist will host an Exhibitor Spotlight Presentation titled, “Twist Bioscience: NGS Target Enrichment Solutions.”

The presentation topics will be, “One-in-Ten Million: Using Duplex Sequencing to Measure Ultra-Rare Mutations Caused by Carcinogens, Aging and the Earliest Stages of Cancer,” by Jesse Salk, MD, PhD, Chief Executive Officer at TwinStrand Biosciences, and clinical faculty member of the University of Washington Division of Medical Oncology; and “Bringing Precision Medicine to Veterinary Oncology,” by Guannan Wang, PhD, Senior Researcher, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.

As our knowledge of cancer pathogenesis increases, we are  hopeful that a marked increase in therapeutic targets will translate into treatments.


 

Featured image: Source: Cancer Research (Adobe Stock)

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